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The Bell Deep

"Ding-dong! Ding-dong!" rings out from the Bell Deep in the Odense River. And what sort of river is that? Why, every child in Odense Town knows it well. It flows around the foot of the gardens, from the locks to the water mill, under the wooden bridges. Yellow water lilies grow in the river, and brown, featherlike reeds, and the black, velvety bulrushes, so high and so thick. Decayed old willow trees, bent and gnarled, hang far over the water beside the monks' marsh and the pale meadows; but a little above are the many gardens, each very different from the next. Some have beautiful flowers and arbors as clean and neat as dolls' houses, while some have only cabbages, and in others no attempts at formal gardens can be seen at all, only great elder trees stretching out and overhanging the running water, which in places is deeper that an oar can measure.

The deepest part is right opposite the old nunnery. It is called the Bell Deep, and it is there that the Merman lives. By day, when the sun shines through the water, he sleeps, but on clear, starry, or moonlit nights he comes forth. He is very old; Grandmother has heard of him from her grandmother, she says; and he lives a lonely life, with hardly anyone to speak to except the big old church bell. It used to hang up in the steeple of the church, but now no trace is left either of the steeple or of the church itself, which used to be called St. Alban's.

"Ding-dong! Ding-dong!" rang the Bell when it hung in the steeple. But one evening, just as the sun was setting and the Bell was in full swing, it tore loose and flew through the air, its shining metal glowing in the red beams of the sunset. "Ding-dong! Ding-dong! Now I'm going to bed!" sang the Bell, and it flew into the deepest spot of the Odense River, which is why that spot is now called the Bell Deep. But it found neither sleep nor rest there, for it still rings and clangs down at the Merman's; often it can be heard up above, through the water, and many people say that it rings to foretell the death of someone-but that is not the reason; no, it really rings to talk to the Merman, who then is no longer alone.

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